Story and photos by Kurt Johnson
When she was in the sixth grade, Lily Franks was diagnosed with diabetes. Now, seven years later, the Lone Peak High senior is proving that, while it requires a change in lifestyle, type 1 diabetes doesn’t have to change a teenager’s quality of life.
According to data from the American Diabetes Association, more than 200,000 people under the age of 20 in the United States have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, a form of the disease that mostly strikes young people and is genetic with much of its exact cause unknown.
Dr. Jane Chiang is on staff at ADA and she shares this in a post at www.diabetes.org about families she has watched deal with a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. “It frustrates. It frightens. It hurts. As a pediatric endocrinologist, I have witnessed the fear that grips families upon receiving a diagnosis. But on many occasions I have seen that fear transformed into determination and, in time, hope because of progress made in diabetes care.”
Franks exemplifies that level of determination and as one of the leaders on the Lone Peak girls soccer team, she is a daily example of what is possible.
“I’ve been playing soccer since I was three, so since I’ve had diabetes, I’ve played soccer,” Franks said. “It definitely has been a concern with my mom, for sure, but soccer is what I love to do, so they just let me do what I have to do to do it As long as you control it, it’s definitely doable. It’s difficult, but it’s doable.”
That attitude carries the senior to great heights in dealing with diabetes and also in taking on challengers as a physical defender for the Region 4 champion Knights. Franks found a home on the back line fairly early in her soccer career and she loves it there.
“I played forward from the time I was three until about seventh grade but then I switched back to defense. I love it and I’ll never look back,” Franks said. “I thought it was so weird because I’ve never played defense, but I kind of owned up to it. I like being physical and hitting people. I’m good at shooting and stuff, but I’m better at building out of the back.”
Change in Lifestyle
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Franks was able to adapt to a new position on the soccer field. Since she started dealing with the diabetes, she has made changes in her lifestyle that allow her to do the things she loves.
“At a young age, I had to learn to take care of myself, without my parents there,” Franks said. “I was right at the age in middle school where you’re starting to become independent and doing your own thing. I definitely had to learn how to take care of myself. Definitely the transition of having to check myself and taking shots and eating better and not eating what other kids eat, and always being on top of it. It was definitely hard at first, but it’s like a lifestyle. I can’t do anything about it, so I have to handle it. As long as I handle it, I can do what I love to do and play.
“I have to take care of my body differently because it takes longer for me to heal, like with injuries. I just have to be more careful and I have to make sure I’m eating right, like I can’t eat junk food. I need to do the things I need to do to take care of my body.”
While monitoring Franks’ physical condition is critical for Lone Peak coach Heather Dahl, she is also able to appreciate the things that make this team captain special.
“Lily’s a great player and she has a great attitude, so it’s fabulous having a player like that on the field,” Dahl said. “As a coach, it’s something medically that I have to be aware of and that, of course, I watch. She has been here long enough to trust me and to know that I have her best interests at heart, too.
“We have a line of communication and if she feels the blood sugar’s running a little low in a practice that she’ll come over and ask to check. There’s been a couple of times where I can see it happening in a drill. Because of the way she plays, there’s opportunities where I can see it in her body language. She keeps her little black bag with her, she keeps her supplies. There are two teammates on this team that she’s played with a long time and one of them keeps a stash on hand just in case. The players are really good as well.”
Those supplies include juice and snacks that she eats if her blood sugar gets low. It’s something she has to stay on top of. If she does go low during practice or a game, the school’s protocol is get her off the field to eat a granola bar or drink some juice, then wait 15 minutes and re-test her levels.
“I usually check myself (with a blood-sugar meter) before games and during halftime, and after,” Franks said. “Before (games), I want to be a little bit higher so while I’m playing it will drop to its normal level. During halftime, I’ll just eat a quick granola bar to keep it level. I have to watch it because with all the activity it drops lower.”
Another activity that is part of the normal routine for Franks is giving herself insulin shots, lots of insulin shots. She’s become used to that over the years.
“It was weird. Luckily I’m not freaked out about shots,” Franks said. “It definitely took some getting used to, doing 10 to 12 shots a day. It’s a huge life-changing experience. As a kid, shots every time I eat is weird. I used to be on a pump, but with soccer season, it’s hard having that machine on all the time. During soccer season I usually take it off, and when I’m not doing soccer I have it on.”
In some ways, Franks feels like her condition has made her a better soccer player. There is a lot that has to happen behind the scenes to make that possible, but as long as she takes care of herself, she is in a good place.
“To everyone else, I look normal,” Franks said. “As long as I keep it up and I’m not dropping, and as long as I monitor it, it’s fine. The second I drop low, you can tell. I can’t run as fast. It looks like I’m running through mud and I can’t focus very well. When I do go low, it definitely affects my conditioning, but as long as I keep it up, I play like everyone else.
“It’s made me a better person as an athlete. It’s made me aware and keeping better care of my body and not taking my health for granted. I think it’s definitely helped me. It sucks having to take care of it all the time, but I think it’s definitely made me a better athlete and a better person.”
Her coach says that Franks does a great job at keeping herself ready to play, and while there are occasions when they need to take her off the field to make sure her levels are on target, there are also times when they give her a break if the situation is right.
“I’m always a little more cautious with her if something does happen, so we give her the time off she needs,” Dahl said. “She’s the first person to tell me ‘I’m fine. Put me back in.’ But if we don’t need her in that situation, we’ll have her take a break. Sometimes she just needs an extra day that most kids wouldn’t need. Lily is a great player and she’s a great player to have on the field. If I get the opportunity to give her a break, I love it, but there are times we don’t get that opportunity and she doesn’t get that break.”
“I have two really good friends that have diabetes and one of my other friends just got diagnosed a couple of years ago,” Franks said. “It’s cool to be able to talk to them about it. Two of them play sports also – one’s on the football team and one’s on the boys soccer team.”
While this year marks the end of her competitive soccer career, her experiences with diabetes give Franks a lot of direction for the things that come next.
“This is my last year. It’s kind of weird,” Franks said. “I’ve loved it ever since I was a kid and it’s been my passion and I’ve loved it. It’s time to move on to different things in college. I’m really interested in medical things. Ever since I got diagnosed, I’ve been really impacted by my doctors and the nurses around me and I want to make a difference in other kids’ lives by doing something in the medical field with diabetes. Hopefully that will work out. That’s my dream, hopefully I can do it.”